May 28 marked four years since a small group of demonstrators gathered in a park in Taksim Square, Istanbul, to stop its destruction. Their efforts sparked the month-long Gezi Park protests in Turkey. Four years on, there is renewed discussion about what, if any, long-term impact the protests have had on Turkish politics and society.
In order to begin to parse out the impact of Gezi and where it fits in the larger context of modern Turkish history, I have compiled and categorized Muftah’s coverage of the Gezi protests.* As these articles reveal, the Gezi demonstrations were unlikely to sway the views of committed AKP voters, and, instead, increased polarization in the country. The protests were also part of a larger phenomenon of grassroots activism against the AKP and its blend of social conservatism and neoliberalism.
One of the earliest, and most perceptive articles on Muftah covering the Gezi protests was written by Zihni Ozdil and published on June 1– just a day after the small, initial demonstration had exploded into a larger event. Ozdil perceptively observed that the protesters, unlike those who had gathered across the Arab world just a few years earlier, were almost all young members of the secular elite. Ozdil predicted, correctly, that the protests would have little impact on then-Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s popularity with his political base.
Ozdil noted that an economic downturn was the only event likely to significantly impact Erdogan and the AKP’s popularity. Though Turkey’s economy has slowed down since then, we have yet to see anything resembling a recession. The political opposition also continues to be weak in Turkey, something that has been exasperated by the jailing of Kurdish politicians. That, combined with Erdogan’s consolidation of power since 2013, means that, even if an economic downturn did happen, it would be far from the drastic blow to AKP domination that would have happened four years ago.
A piece by Muftah’s editor-in-chief, Maryam Jamshidi, published the same day as Ozdil’s analysis, place Gezi in the context of a string of escalating protests against the AKP’s neoliberal policies. The article traces the origins of Gezi back through multiple, grassroots protests against the destruction of historic sites in Istanbul beginning in December 2012. A year after the protests, Jay Cassano created a timeline of the major events that took place during the Gezi occupation, as well as significant protests and Gezi-related developments that happened over the course of the following year.
Writing a month ago after the referendum that created a presidential system in Turkey, in April 2017, Ebru Erdem-Akcay traced the origins of the heavily-repressed, grassroots “No” campaign to the protest techniques that were utilized during and after the Gezi protests. Erden-Akcay observed that the humor and creativity at Gezi carried over to the images and messages used in the “No” campaign. Many of the neighborhood councils created as a direct result of Gezi were key in organizing the referendum movement.
I am somewhat hesitant to evaluate Gezi’s impact four years on, as I believe its true effects will only be seen in the longer-term. For now, however, Gezi has had a mixed legacy. On the one hand, the AKP and Erdogan have consistently used it as an excuse to restrict political dissent and free speech. On the other hand, it has created new structures, tools, and vocabularies for those members of Turkish society who oppose the current government. The fact that a grassroots political opposition is able to operate at all in Turkey’s increasingly repressive environment is likely part of Gezi’s legacy.
As much as he may try, Erdogan will never be able to stamp out the embers of dissent ignited by the Gezi demonstrations.
Timelines and Recaps of Events
RIP: The Turkish Model by Zeynep Kosereisoglu
Protests in Turkey: #OccupyGezi by Maryam Jamshidi
Evolving Protests in Turkey: A Personal Account by Kubra Guven
Protesting in Ankara: an Interview with a “Chapulcu” by Zeynep Kosereisoglu
From London to Istanbul: A Journey to Gezi Park by Onurcan Kurucu
Turkey: When the Tear Gas Clears – Part 2 by Zihni Ozdil
OccupyGezi, Some Weeks Later: Why and Now What? By Kubra Guven
If Taksim Is Not Tahrir, What Is It? by Sarah Jones
Turkey: Elections Don’t Mean Democracy by Zeynep Kosereisoglu
Protests in Turkey Part of Growing Cycle of Discontent by Maryam Jamshidi
The Turkish Police Force: Where Violence Meets Impunity by Ruairi Patterson
Many Turks, But One Turkey: Overcoming Divisiveness in #OccupyGezi by Max Perry-Wilson
Islam in Politics: A Conversation with Mustafa Akyol by Muneed Siddiqui
Turkey’s Third Option: To Hell In A Handbasket by Jenny B. White
Gezi’s Continued Legacy
Turkish Civil Society Will Continue to Challenge Erdogan’s Power by Ebru Erdem-Akcay
Book Review: The Fall of the Turkish Model by Cihan Tugal by Claire Sadar
“Earth Iftars” Have Become a Symbol of Protest Against the AKP by Claire Sadar
The Terrorists, the Prosecutor and Berkin Elvan by Claire Sadar
*Thank you to Ebru Erdem-Akcay for the suggestion.